Despite the depth of the recession and fierce local protests, John Healey, the Housing Minister, approved sites in Oxfordshire, Norfolk, Cornwall and Hampshire. The chosen developers for Gordon Brown’s flagship programme will each be able to bid for part of a £60 million pot of extra cash.
Rural campaigners warned that the zero-carbon developments would threaten greenfield sites and local wildlife. There were also concerns that without more public transport, the extra traffic would increase rather than reduce pollution.
The successful bids, all backed by Conservative local authorities, are: Rackheath, Norfolk; Whitehill Bordon, East Hampshire; North West Bicester and the China Clay Community near St Austell, Cornwall. The Government has dropped plans to develop more controversial sites such as Western Otmoor, near Oxford — opposed by Tim Henman’s father, Tony — Ford, West Sussex, and Pennbury, Leicstershire.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England cautiously welcomed the Government’s decision to scale back its orginal shortlist of 15 sites. “From a list of deeply worrying and unsustainable locations the Government has chosen to go with the least damaging, which is enouraging,” said Kate Gordon, the organisation’s senior planning officer.
The Conservatives accused the Government of presiding over an “eco-con” that was mired in controversy. “All the low-flush toilets in the world can’t make dumping a housing estate on green fields somehow eco-friendly,” said Grant Shapps, the Shadow Housing Minister.
Marliyn Metcalfe, head of Bordon Area Action Group, which opposes the scheme in Whitehill Bordon, said: “It beggars belief that another 15,000 people would not damage the surrounding wildlife, that we could all survive on the same amount of water used now, and that doubling the population would produce no more carbon omissions than Bordon today,” Ms Metcalfe said.
All four in the first wave will be expected to have a zero-carbon school by 2013, and parks, playgrounds and gardens will make up 40 per cent of the towns. At least 30 per cent of affordable housing will be required, with one member of each working couple expected to work in the town.
Biomass fuel, solar panels, insulation, water recycling and double glazing are expected to save a typical home £200 to £500 a year. The homes will also have gadgets such as electronic bus timetables on the walls.